Table saw, router, neither, both.

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29 Sep 2020
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As a not particularly experienced woodworker, I'm after a bit of advice on my next tool purchase. I have a couple of projects planned. The first is building a cistern cabinet with some storage (including doors) in our bathroom. The second will be building cabinets for a campervan conversion (probably lots of poplar ply).

I'm trying to decide if I should get a table saw, a router (+ DIY router table) or both (or something else?). I have maybe £400 to spend, so if I went for both they would be budget options. I'll be doing a bull-nose edge on the bathroom cabinet top, so router would be handy, but could always hire one just for this. The cabinetry for both projects will involve a fair bit of T&G and dadoes, which I guess either tool would be capable of. I could order my sheet material pre-cut so I don't need to do a load of ripping at home, but would be nice to have the flexibility. I can rip with my circular saw + jig, but I might struggle with accuracy.

I already have a budget sliding/compound mitre saw (not hugely accurate), circular saw, jigsaw, detail sander and drill/driver. I'm anticipating spending another £100 on some new long clamps, consumables, etc. No current workshop space - so need to be moving things out to the garden weather permitting.

Any advice much appreciated.
For ordinary construction work a router table can be a plank of wood with a hole in it. A straight bit for a fence held with two clamps. Everything else is a luxury.

Youve talked yourself out of a table saw because you can get everything cut to size.
A top class router with some good bits are easily within your 400 quid budget and you get change.
400 on a table saw gets you very iffy chinese disaster, or an old british monster that might take a year to refurbish., or a reasonably good site saw. None of which can do all the mouldings and dados and even edge jointing that you will need.
A cheaper tracksaw - see Peter Millard's reviews - and a quality second hand 1/4" router would be my choice.
Make sure the router has a really good fence - lots of them have cheap tat pressed steel fences. £150 on a GOOD used Elu MOF96E is a better buy than almost anything else out there but they are rare. You may need to replace the carbon brushes so if you are not that mechanically minded, then this option is probably closed to you and you should use > £250 of your budget on a new router.
Many people will advocate 1/2" routers and router tables. I don't. Nor trim routers.
A 1/4" router with good power and a good fence is far easier to control hand held amd can be run along a straightedge clamped to the work for clean accurate straight edges and with bearing guided cutters for edging. Routers are versatile because you can make simple jigs to help you do things that are dificult otherwise.
If you are moulding small section edging, where you CAN'T balance the router on the wood, improvise a simple router table for the job and dismantle it afterwards. Router tables as a category are ridiculously priced for what you get. Cheap ones are junk, no better than you can make with a board and a stick. £1,000 ones are fancy but the money would be far better spent on a spindle moulder.
As a rule of thumb:
If the work is bigger than the tool, take the tool to the work.
If the work is (much) smaller than the tool, take the work to the tool (i.e. that's the time to look at making a temporary router table)
#1 beginners mistake with a router - trying to cut too much off at once. Start with the idea that you will need three of four passes on every cut, increasing the plunge depth or fence position a few mm each time. Small cuts are controllable and you will get to know the tool. If you start by taking full depth or full width cuts, the tool will kick, mess up your work and put you off.
Glad you both said router as in my mind that's more fun, less bulky and slightly less scary than the table saw. I've been looking at pros/cons of 1/4" vs. 1/2" routers and can't see me working with anything thicker that 22mm for now (no proper kitchen worktops), so hoping I can get away with a 1/4" one and that can be used on an improvised table occasionally.

@Sideways Would a cheap track saw really give me much improvement over my circular saw and homemade jig/fence thing I use? The ply for the van conversion will be lightweight/expensive stuff with exposed ply edges (no pvc moulding stuff), so I'll really want to minimise tearout.
Dont mistake a router for friendly toy :oops: :) It will rip a finger off just as fast a table saw will remove the whole hand.
Do a bit of research on
1/ depth of cut on each pass
2/ direction of cut in relation to direction of spin.
Both vitally important in keeping yourself healthy regardless of router size.
I'm firmly in the 1/2" router camp, for almost every job. You can fit 1/4" bits in a 1/2" router, it doesnt work the other way round.
Of course, for your 400, you can actually buy a good router in both sizes. The 1/4" for edge trimming and light weight work, the 1/2" for large mouldings and long straight grooving. Just make sure you get an adaptor collet for the router.
Beware, routers breed. I started with one. I now have 5, after giving a sixth to my son in law. :cool:
Yes, mine have multiplied. from an old 1/4" ELU (agree with Sideways it is fantastic), a 1/2" Dewalt in a sizeable router table, a 1/2" Clarke for edge-jointing 2" boards and a Katsu trimmer (well worth its £40 whatever else you get).

I don't like a 1/2" router for portable work, except for the really big boards. It's too heavy and uncontrollable. Nite however, that for the ELU, Katsu and probably other 1/4" routers, you can get 8 mm collets as an extra, which increases the range and strength of the bits that can be used. My favourite trimmer for thick boards is the Wealden up-down shear trimmer. At 1/4" this would feel flimsy, but at 8 mm it is terrific.

I'm a table saw fanatic and use the Wadkin a lot. But I bought the router first and this was a good choice.
Regards the tracksaw, I bought the Festool one. It is the only one I've ever used. The only Festool item I have, and it would take the whole of your budget.
I find it a very good tool. Cuts are dead straight, edges are very clean thanks to a small diameter blade with 48 teeth and the strip along the edge of the track. Peter's videos show that you can get a lot of these benefits from much cheaper tracksaws. By the time you buy an accurate straightedge and a decent 48 tooth TCT blade for your existing saw, you might be well on the way to the cost of a budget tracksaw.
I think the router is the tool where spending extra makes the biggest difference.
Routers spin at 20,000 rpm or more. They need to be well made, well balanced, smooth, with soft start and good bearings - and a rock solid fences. Cheap routers don't pass these tests. A lot of expensive ones don't either because the mainstream top brands are no longer building powertools to the same quality standards that we used to expect from their professional / industrial ranges. Personally, I would never buy a DeWalt or Trend router. If buying new I would take other people's advice on the Makita range and would investigate the Bosch blue models too.
Thanks. That gives me a fair bit to ponder over. Just watched a few of Peter Millard's tracksaw videos. There's a lot more you can do with one of them than I realised. Recon I'll prioritise the router and see if there's enough change to look at a track saw after. A 1/2" router from a reputable brand (plus T&G bits) will max out my budget. Am I correct that for T&G I'd need a 1/2" with variable speed? 1/4" fixed speed are a lot cheaper!
As a not-particularly experienced woodworker I would be cautious of suggesting you plumb for a router and hack together a router table at this juncture. As others have pointed out, a decent track saw will likely be more practical than a table saw right now as you can break down sheet quite accurately and track saw's tend to replace table saw's in some peoples work setup, rarely the other way around. You will find this more useful for the camper fit-out as well and yes it will be better than your current setup.
Personally I would buy the best track saw package you can get, i.e. buy a saw with enough track to cut over 8' (i.e. two 1.4m lengths). Buy a known brand of saw and track that works with the many accessories available, i.e. parf dogs. Buy some dogs and a cheap Festool MFT/3 table top copy off Ebay; the tops and dogs are usually cheaper if bought together.
Make your first project a knock down bench using that top. Some MFT clamps for the top will also eat into your clamp budget. Then save up your pennies and get a router of the same brand as the track saw so you can use the track for the router as well.
I would also not ignore the hand tool route at this stage, consider some chisels, a no4 plane and a way to sharpen them.

Not exactly the answer you wanted but just adding some thought to the process.
I have both Parkside and Festool track saws. They will deliver the same quality of cut (after upgrading the Parkside blade to a Triton TTS60), and this would be my first purchase, as track saws are very convenient for precision cuts with sheet goods (and the occasional bit of real wood). I'm not saying that the Festool TS55 is not a better saw, but one can achieve the same cuts and precision with a much cheaper alternative.

For routers, I think a 1/2" (or at least an 8mm) router is the way to go. Good routers (and router bits) don't come cheap unfortunately (the Parkside one is not worth buying IMO), and there is a learning curve. It might be worth looking into what Makita or Hikoki have to offer (The Triton TRA001 is very good with a basic router table in my experience, but I wouldn't use it hand held). The Festool OF1400 I also have is fine, but nothing special in my view compared to what was on the market 20 years ago, when I got my first 'plunge' router (a Porter Cable 7529)
slightly less scary than the table saw
Spoken like a man who's never held a router when it wanted to go!

£340 would get you a triton tracksaw (unlike my titan the triton has soft start and speed control), evolution 2.8m tracks, and the erbauer 1/2 router (which also has soft start), spend another £20 on a freud blade or similar and you'll get straight cuts with no issues and a powerful router that won;t try and rip your wrists off when you start it up. No its not Festool or Makita or Dewalt, but both machines will do the job and on a budget.

I've had plenty of use using my Titan tracksaw while building an entire workshop and its been faultless and I've done jobs in the house with it too. I recently bought the Festool simply becase I have the money now and wanted the extra refinement.
I am also an inexperienced woodworker and have recently replaced my crappy Triton table saw with a Scheppach HS105. £250 and it is excellent. Big difference is the fence locks front and back. It took a 3mm trim off a 4m long board perfectly. I have a palm router which I struggle with and need to get some practice in on some scrap pieces. If you are building a lot of cabinets, have you ever used pocket screws? Especially at back or sides not being seen. Or plugged if being painted. Really convenient strong joints. Best jigs are by Kreg. Not cheap but worth it if doing a lot. Plenty of videos on You tube
Robbo - yes, I plan on using some pocket screws for the van. There's an excellent Youtube series by Greg Virgoe where he goes into some detail using pocket screws to build the lockers and carcassing, which I'll be basing my designs on as keeping the weight down is crucial.
There will always be debate over whether a 1/4" or a 1/2" router is best. I bought my first 1/4" in 1985 and my one and only 1/2" in 1991. Both Bosch. I lent my small one and didn't get it back, so replaced it - I saw an unused one at a car boot for £25, it was missing the little pellet under the knob that locked the base, thus devaluing it. I replaced it and put one in the other side as well, so it locks a bit more firmly.
Nine times out of ten I use the big one, not necessarily because the power is necessary but because there is a far, far greater choice of cutters. Most of what you can do with a small router can be done by a large one, but a lot of what can be done with a large one can't be done with a small one.
I have a decent 1/2”router and a 1/4” Bosch POF500 both which I inherited. To be honest the little Bosch is my go-to router as it is lighter and more compact. You can pick them up for £30-40.
I'm getting the impression there won't be any consensus on what type of router I should get :LOL: Cheap vs. pro-level, 1/4" vs. 1/2", new vs. secondhand. Starting to see why people end up with more than one!
I reach for my 1/4" regularly, I use it for pattern following at which, it is fantastic. the 1/2" gets used less often, but when needed is the only tool for the job.
personally, for 400 quid, I'd splash 200 on the 1/2" and buy a katsu 1/4" for 30-40 quid. the remain 60 quid will get you reasonable quality bits to start with. then I'd spend the remaining 100 quid on a Macalister track saw from screwfix.

I say this is what would do, but that isn't true. it's what I have done. :)